Defending champion Marc Marquez got off to the perfect start in the new MotoGP season holding off a determined Valentino Rossi in a thrilling race in Qatar.

Marquez’s Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa claimed the final place on the podium as a number of front running riders crashed.

Perhaps the biggest retiree was Jorge Lorenzo who, after a blinding start on his Yamaha, lost the front of the bike braking for turn 15 allowing Bradley Smith into the lead.

The Briton’s stay at the front would be equally short as a slight error allowed Stefan Bradl into the lead and the pole man Marquez back up into second.

Andrea Ionnone also had a good start but would crash out from fourth as Alvaro Bautista moved ahead of Valentino Rossi on the same lap to take that fourth place.

Bradl, Marquez and Smith had a slight gap back to Bautista and the seven-time top class champion Rossi but that wouldn’t last long as the pair closed in on the Tech 3 Yamaha ahead.

As Smith was quickly displaced by the two behind, Bradl’s work came crashing down as he fell under braking for turn six giving the hard charging Marquez the lead as the Catalan just held off Rossi, an earlier mistake from Bautista had seen Rossi, Smith and the fast approaching Pedrosa all sneak through.

The number #46 was continued to harry the number #93 as Rossi and Marquez exchanged positions several times while Pedrosa was also making progress into third.

Behind the front five Aleix Espargaro made up for a frustrating qualifying which saw him crash twice and was sixth ahead of the two Ducatis of birthday boy Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow with the other Espargaro keeping them all within sight in eighth.

A slight respite in the relentless action before, heading into the final ten laps, Marquez move back ahead of Rossi at turn one, holding of the Italian after a slight error through turn 12 on the following lap, meanwhile another Briton Scott Redding in his first MotoGP race was ahead of much more experienced team-mate Nicky Hayden on the open class Honda’s.

Two groups began to emerge as Marquez battles with Rossi and Bautista with Pedrosa as Bradley Smith’s impressive Tech 3 debut came to a shuddering halt becoming another rider to lose the front this time at turn two.

That promoted Aleix Espargaro upto fifth meanwhile on the penultimate lap it was all action at the front as Rossi and Marquez passed and then re-passed each other with Marquez holding onto the lead and on the final lap had just enough margin to keep the Yamaha behind the claim victory.

Rossi will still be pleased with second after starting tenth while the battle for third was concluded as Bautista became the final front-running rider to crash out on the Gresini Honda.

That meant Pedrosa was left unchallenged with Aleix Espargaro in fourth ahead of Dovizioso, Crutchlow sixth as Redding held off Hayden to take seventh, Colin Edwards and Andrea Iannone recovered from his earlier off to claim tenth.

The day was about Marquez however as the Spaniard came through the pain of a damaged leg holding off the veteran Rossi and that will fill the 21-year-old up with plenty of confidence heading to the track he won hist first race at last year the Circuit of the Americas for the Austin Grand Prix.

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